The union of Portland-based chain Little Big Burger has already hit its first roadblocks. Days after officially announcing its existence, the Little Big Union claims corporate representatives removed pro-union posters in employee break areas, according to a Facebook post on the union’s page.
Last Saturday, employees of Little Big Burger restaurants across Portland held a march and rally near the NW 23rd location, announcing the existence of the Little Big Union — Portland’s second fast-food union. The union’s initial demands included $5 raises for employees, benefits, and paid sick leave, as well as the company’s voluntary recognition of the union.
In the days following the rally, the company behind Little Big Burger, Chanticleer Holdings, indicated that it would not voluntarily recognize the union. In a written statement released Monday evening, the company suggested stores hold a “fair, secret ballot election” as opposed to making the decision for employees, Portland Mercury first reported. “As such, it is our responsibility to ensure that all of our team members have the information that they need to make an informed choice,” the statement reads. “Above all, such a decision should not be made by just a few, or by the company itself.”
The company’s written response insists that the company isn’t “anti-union,” and also mentions that “the average Little Big Burger employee in the Portland Metro area has earned more than $17 per hour in taxable income.”
This morning, the union posted reports of corporate removing union materials from public break rooms. “We are disappointed that the corporate executives of Chanticleer Holdings and Little Big Burger regional managers have chosen to ignore our basic request to not disparage their workers or engage in union busting,” the post reads. “We see corporate to be venturing down a dangerous and expensive path.”
Adrian Oca, Regional Vice President of Operations at Chanticleer Holdings, says the removal of the posters was because of the company’s “non-solicitation” policy. “We have always maintained and enforced a non-solicitation policy in our restaurants, and it has been our practice to remove solicitation materials from our premises, including our employee break rooms,” Oca says. “It is unfortunate that our efforts to maintain a comfortable break area was mischaracterized as ‘union busting.’”
The National Labor Relations Board says union members have the right to distribute union materials in non-work areas like break rooms. “Your employer cannot prohibit you from talking about or soliciting for a union during non-work time, such as before or after work or during break times; or from distributing union literature during non-work time, in non-work areas, such as parking lots or break rooms,” the NLRB’s website reads. However, in Fleming Companies v. National Labor Relations Board, the Court of Appeals overturned a Board decision, therefore allowing employers to prohibit union postings on bulletin boards if it fits the overarching company policy, “as long as the policy was consistently enforced.” In other words, this is a legally murky issue.
Local management’s initial response was reasonably positive, according to union member and Little Big Burger employee Ashley Reyes. She says managers asked what they could do for the union “right now” in response to the rally; union members asked for gloves to keep employees from slicing their hands while taking down the restaurant’s vents. “I sent out a group chat through our company group messaging platform about the vents, and... no one had even acknowledged that I sent it,” she says. “As soon as our union went public, we got gloves within two hours. We consider that as our first win as a public union.”
The Little Big Union follows the Burgerville Workers Union as Portland’s second fast-food workers union, but the two unions are closely tied. Reyes says their guidance was incredibly influential as the union developed over the last year. “We would not be here without the Burgerville Workers Union,” she says. “They’ve given us an example of what’s possible. We’ve seen that it’s possible to have a say in your workplace, to make workers feel empowered... We hope to inspire other workers to feel like they can also do it. That’s how the movement spreads.”
Updated March 20, 2019, 11:23 a.m.: This story has been updated to include recent comment from Chanticleer Holdings, and the National Labor Relations Board’s explanation of union organizers’ rights.
Updated March 20, 2019, 12:58 p.m.: This story has been updated to include information about Fleming Companies v. National Labor Relations Board, a case pertaining to the posting of union materials on bulletin boards.
• Little Big Burger [Official]
• Little Big Union [Facebook]
• The Workers at Portland-Based Chain Little Big Burger Are Unionizing [EPDX]
• Little Big Burger is Unionizing. Will Management Avoid Burgerville’s Missteps? [Merc]
• All previous Little Big Burger coverage [EPDX]